Although they must pass an exam to show they know English at an upper intermediate level, attendance on my 50 hour language courses for these Italian university students is not compulsory.
In practice, this means that for the first few lessons around 70 come to the classes but then the numbers tend to dwindle. I count myself fortunate if, by the end of the course, the class size is still in double figures.
When I started out, some ten years ago, I took this drop out rate to be a sad reflection of my limited teaching ability. Now, I realise that even if I did a song and dance act every lesson, the decline has to be accepted as inevitable. Students have heavy programs to follow and, rightly or wrongly (I would argue the latter), English is generally regarded as a luxury rather than as an essential subject.
This student reaction (from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is what I wanted to avoid.
In consequence. those that remain tend to be those whose linguistic knowledge is weak and are desperate for any tips on how to pass the exam, or else they are among the select few who are already at a decent level and want to learn more.
The mid-way point of any course is potentially the dead zone. It raises the dispiriting prospect of grinding on with grammar drills or ‘realistic’ listening comprehensions that hardly anyone understands.
This year I decided to take the bull by the horns and try something different. The primary motive for this was to preserve my own sanity and I also hoped that the knock on effect might be to generate a modicum of interest among my loyal students.
I pitched the idea that each of the remaining lessons should be built around movie clips and this met with a positive response. I have, of course, used such material in the past but I have never previously undertaken to select a different title for consecutive classes. In this instance, it means I will have to choose a dozen different films. (Was I making a rod for my own back, I wondered!). Continue reading